Otranto, Puglia: Things to Do in and Around Otranto
Thinking about visiting Otranto Puglia? Keep reading to find out the best things to do in Otranto and discover the best Otranto beaches nearby too.
As one of Italy’s southernmost towns located on the Salento Peninsula, Otranto Puglia is a highlight on any Puglia trip. With a beautifully rustic historical centre, stunning beaches, unique churches and heritage based on Byzantine, Roman and Arab influences, Otranto Puglia is the perfect place to spend a day.
Otranto isn’t big and you definitely don’t need many days here. Many people visit for just a morning, perhaps as a half-day trip from Lecce but I’d recommend spending at least a day here where you can enjoy the historic center as well as all the amazing beaches both in and outside town. In fact, go a little further north and you’ll find one of the best beaches in Puglia.
Wander around and soak in the main sights in the morning and then relax on the best beaches in the area in the afternoon, this guide will make sure you plan the perfect trip. Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about visiting Otranto and what to see.
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How To Get to Otranto Puglia
Otranto lies on the coast of southern Puglia, about 42 km southeast of Lecce and 90 km southeast of Brindisi. It’s one of the largest coastal towns in this region.
We visited Otranto as part of our 10-day Puglia road trip itinerary and we found in general that it’s best to hire a car while travelling around Puglia. Driving in the region is quick and easy.
By Car– It’s easy and quick to drive to Otranto from most places in Puglia. From Lecce, it takes just 30 minutes so visiting as a day trip from Lecce is a great idea. Otherwise, it takes about an hour to drive from Brindisi. The best way to get there is to use Google Maps or a GPS to better guide you to the town.
If you want to get the most out of the area I highly recommend renting a car for total flexibility. I always use Auto Europe to rent a car in Italy. They have some of the best rates, especially in the summer high season. Find a rental car with Auto Europe here.
Once in Otranto, you’ll need to find parking. We found free parking in this lot here, however, in high season this could be paid. Either way, next to it is another large parking lot and you’ll be able to find parking there if you come relatively early.
By Train & Bus – Another option to get to Otranto is by train although you may need to change trains a few times depending on where you’re coming from. From Lecce, you’ll need to change in Maglie with the journey taking 1hr 20mins.
From Gallipoli, you’ll need to change twice or take a bus and a train. From Brindisi, you’ll likely need to take a combination of buses and trains. Check Omio to check and plan your trip- it’s the website I use to check train and bus tickets.
You can also take some local buses to get to Otranto which might be more direct and more convenient than trains. Buses from Lecce take about 45 mins-1 hour and are direct. There are also direct buses from Brindisi and Gallipoli. Check Omio to book your ticket.
Best Things to Do in Otranto Puglia
Explore the Historic Center
Like most small towns in Puglia, Otranto too has a beautiful historic center waiting to be explored. Compact and very small in size, Otranto’s centro storico is full of narrow, winding alleyways and hundred-year-old stone buildings with newly painted wooden shutters as well as a historic port. It’s also one of the only towns in these parts with its old city walls intact.
After arriving, the best way to get your bearings and see what the little seaside town has to offer is to just start walking around. Eventually, you’ll come to many of the more famous sights listed in this guide and some really incredible views of the port and its turquoise water.
A good place to start is by taking the winding roads near Otranto Castle and making your way through the narrow alleyways to Chiesa di San Pietro and Otranto’s beautiful Duomo. You can head out to the lungomare and continue from there.
If you don’t quite want to explore the old town on your own or you’d like more information about what you’re seeing then why not take a guided walking tour? From a knowledgeable guide, you’ll be able to learn more about Otranto’s past and present. Click here for the best Private Walking Tour of Otranto.
Walk the Lungomare in Otranto Puglia
The lungomare degli Eroi is one of the best spots for a walk in Otranto Puglia. You will no doubt naturally end up here, the magical, turquoise water of Otranto has a way of pulling one towards it. The lungomare degli Eroi runs along the raised part of this side of the city which protects the town from water erosion. You can, however, head down and walk along the water’s edge.
The lungomare is the perfect spot to be at any time of day, head there in the morning for an active walk or jog. Take a stroll at lunchtime and notice all the seafood-focused, tourist-filled restaurants that line the promenade. At sunset, there’s nothing better than taking a walk here with everything cast into a golden glow.
Once you get the Giardini pubblici ‘La Villa‘ you can actually walk through the garden and continue walking down the main seaside promenade to continue your walk to the other side of the beautiful bay and Otranto beach.
Visit the Aragonese Otranto Castle
One of the most intriguing sights to visit in Otranto is its Aragonese Castle. Sitting in the middle of town, this fortress dates back to the late 15th Century even though most of what’s standing today is from the 16th Century. It’s a five-sided castle with huge round towers and bastion as well as a moat surrounding it.
Within the castle walls, you’ll find various rooms, now used for housing a variety of different exhibitions. On the inside is a giant courtyard. The castle also has a chapel and an underground network of tunnels, galleries and small rooms. One of the best parts of the castle, however, is the view from the top you can see the whole of Otranto Puglia, its narrow alleys below and all its rooftops. The view of the port from here is also very picturesque.
Otranto Castle was also the location based in ”The Castle of Otranto’ by Horace Walpole from 1764, the very first Gothic novel in history.
The entry ticket to Otranto Castle also includes access to whatever temporary exhibition happens to be on at the time which I highly recommend checking out.
Peer into Otranto’s Duomo
Dating back to the 11th Century, Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata is Otranto’s impressive duomo. Occupying quite a fair bit of the historic center this grand Romanesque cathedral is a must when in Otranto Italy.
On the somewhat subdued facade, you’ll find an impressive rose window but it’s really what’s inside that’s the most impressive. Make sure to pay close attention to the ornate, Byzantine floor mosaics which can be seen over the entire floor length of the nave. They date back to the 11th Century too and depict scenes from local history.
You’ll also want to head to the crypt in the side chapel. Inside you find gruesome displays of about 800 skulls- innocent, martyred Christians murdered during the siege by the Turks in the 1480s.
Relax on Spiaggia dei Gradoni
Spiaggia dei Gradoni is Otranto’s best beach. You’ll find it right in town on the other side of the bay to the Centro Storico but it can be easily reached from almost anywhere in town providing you don’t mind a bit of walking.
Spiaggia dei Gradoni has almost white sand with the most perfect, clear, turquoise water lapping at its shores. It really is one of the most beautiful beaches around. The only downside is that it’s pretty small so in the summer months, it fills up fast and can get very busy. If you’re planning to spend the day on the beach here, make sure to get here early to snag a good spot.
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Take an Otranto Puglia Boat Tour
One of the best things to do in Otranto is to get out on that crystal clear, turquoise water and get to know the coastline more. Luckily boat tours are common and you’ll be able to see the beautiful jagged coastline from the water, take swimming breaks in the gorgeous water and admire all the ruined fortresses and castles that line the coast.
Make sure to check out this 4-hour Otranto Coastline boat Tour that also includes an aperitif on board.
Have a Beachside Lunch/Drink
On Otranto’s lungomare or seaside promenade, you’ll see many restaurants, most of which specialise in seafood and local Puglian cuisine. It’s a scenic spot for lunch, where you can feast upon the region’s delights with a cold, crisp glass of wine with the shimmering blue water in front of you.
Some of the best restaurants with sea views are 40 Parallelo, Vecchia Otranto in the historic center and Viapunta7 Tapas on the lungomare. Most of the restaurants on the promenade however charge more for pretty average food most probably due to their privileged location.
If you’re looking for great, more budget, local spots you’ll need to go a little further into town, away from the sea and save your evening aperitif for a seaside restaurant.
Admire the mosaics in Chiesa di San Pietro
When exploring the centro storico you’ll no doubt pass by this small circular church. It was built on the highest point in Otranto Italy and dates back to the late 9th and early 10th Centuries, an excellent testimony to Byzantine rule in Otranto. This Byzantine church with its square, Greek layout has three small naves under one main dome. While the current, Baroque altar dates back to 1841, it’s the frescos here that call one’s attention the most.